Clear Channel More Interested In Playing Old Music Than Music By Old People

Oct 30th, 2007 // 13 Comments

magic.jpgFox 411 columnist and Jann Wenner enemy Roger Friedman is alleging that the radio monopolists at Clear Channel have flat-out told the programmers at their rock stations that they can’t play tracks from Bruce Springsteen’s Magic, despite the album being No. 1 on the charts last week. Songs from the Boss’ vault, like “Born To Run” and “Born In The USA,” are OK, and that’s causing Friedman to cry ageism:

Clear Channel seems to have sent a clear message to other radio outlets that at age 58, Springsteen simply is too old to be played on rock stations. This completely absurd notion is one of many ways Clear Channel has done more to destroy the music business than downloading over the last 10 years. It’s certainly what’s helped create satellite radio, where Springsteen is a staple and even has his own channel on Sirius.

It’s not just Springsteen. There is no sign at major radio stations of new albums by John Fogerty or Annie Lennox, either. The same stations that should be playing Santana’s new singles with Chad Kroeger or Tina Turner are avoiding them, too.

Like Springsteen, these “older” artists have been relegated to something called Triple A format stations — i.e. either college radio or small artsy stations such as WFUV in the Bronx, N.Y., which are immune from the Clear Channel virus of pre-programming and where the number of plays per song is a fraction of what it is on commercial radio.

While Friedman does raise a good point about the peculiarity of radio shunning the few artists who can actually sell records these days–and there probably is some sort of insidious “ew, they’re old” attitude toward even the biggest-selling older artists–there’s probably a much more simple explanation for Bruce’s absence from these stations’ playlists: the only major rock format that even plays artists like Springsteen–i.e., a guy who isn’t constantly having tantrums about life/girls/what-have-you sucking over super-compressed tracks–is “classic rock,” a format that seemingly adds two or three songs to its playlists a year. Maybe in 2012, “Radio Nowhere” will finally make it to these stations (if they still exist!), but I think the indifference Friedman is speaking to is more the result of scaredy-cat programmers who are afraid to upset the “getting the Led out” apple cart than ageism. Although if Led Zeppelin’s new songs are also summarily ignored by these stations, perhaps his argument will have at least a little weight.

Bruce: Magic Refused Radio Play [Fox 411]

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  1. The Van Buren Boys

    The same stations that should be playing Santana’s new singles with Chad Kroeger

    Nobody, I repeat, nobody should be playing this song under any circumstance. I happened to come across the video for this song on VH1 and the song is just awful.

  2. Anonymous

    Couldn’t have anything to do with his politics, could it? Nah.

  3. Chris Molanphy

    You nailed it in your concluding paragraph, but if I may, let me paraphrase using some industry/radio terminology…

    Prior to the ’80s, there was one major rock radio format: AOR (album-oriented rock). Sure, what made AOR great in its heyday was that it played a deep variety of stuff; but across the country, the basic concept was the same — play “classic” songs by a selection of a couple hundred anointed rock acts, and then play current stuff by those same rock acts alongside the older tracks. A handful of totally new acts with some form of “rock cred” would get added to the mix. But by and large, an AOR station was playing current Pink Floyd next to old Pink Floyd, a Greg Allman song alongside an Allman Bros. classic, etc.

    This format is distinct from that ’80s-invented, now-ubiquitous format, classic rock, which is basically the above AOR playlist minus all the current stuff. Once the public perceived in the ’80s that the “great” days of rock were behind it, the idea was that you could fill the day with nothing but the middle 15 years of rock history (roughly 1965-80) and ignore those acts’ current work — say, Robert Plant’s “Tall Cool One” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies.” Why play “Little Lies” when you’ve still got “Dreams” and “Say You Love Me”?

    Flash forward to today. Simply put, AOR is now mostly dead. Very few stations play “deep album cuts,” and the format that Billboard now calls “Mainstream Rock” or “Active Rock” is a watered-down version of modern rock that eliminates all classic-rock songs before 1990, as well as what few bits of indie/gothy/femmy music remain in the Modern Rock genre. It’s bro-rock, or ballcap-wearer’s rock.

    In short, there is literally no format for new Bruce music in 2007. Classic rock’s catalog has been updated to encompass the late ’80-early ’90s, but they’re still not playing anything current. Manistream Rock plays Foo Fighters and Puddle of Mudd, not Bruce. Modern Rock never played Springsteen. Adult Contemporary would play a new-model Bruce ballad like “Streets of Philadelphia” or “Secret Garden,” but it had better appear in the modern-day equivalent of Jerry Maguire. And Top 40 abandoned Bruce after 1993.

    In short, Friedman’s an idiot (surprise, surprise): There is no conspiracy. Clear Channel sucks because radio formatting sucks, not because they’re blackballing the Boss.

  4. Lax Danja House

    I wholly reject the notion that any new single with Chad Kroeger should be featured anywhere.

  5. Halfwit

    @dennisobell: Marry me…

    err…

    I mean… awesome analysis, bro (chest bump)

  6. Charlie Kerfelds Jetsons Tee

    @dennisobell: Very well put.

    The ONLY station I’ve heard that still does the AOR thing is probably KLBJ in Austin. They always struck me as playing a pretty fair mixture of old songs and newer songs by older artists.

    Can any Austinites back me up on that? I moved away almost two years ago, so things may have changed…

  7. HowCron

    I’ve heard Radio Nowhere on WHJY (a clear channel station) many times. It sounds like Friedman is just a hater. Also, clear channel only owns something like 9% of all US commercial radio stations… and according to the news, they’ve been selling off a bunch of smaller market stations recently. Kind of puts a damper on your whole “the radio monopolists at Clear Channel” bit. Last I heard, 9% (or less) is no where NEAR a monopoly.

  8. Anonymous

    @HowCron:

    perhaps, but it owns MANY stations within what are considered the “major markets” – these are the cities and stations tthat set the tone for the industry nationwide.

    a cursory search yeilded these figures (from 2002, so perhaps a bit out of date):

    Honolulu – 7 stations
    DeMoines – 6
    Ft. Myers – 8
    San Diego – 14 (!!!!!)
    [www.wired.com]

    where I live (Pittsburgh), CC owns 5 FM and 2 AM stations. that’s a pretty sizable chunk of radio dial real estate.

    to suggest that they don’t set the tone for the industry is laughable.

  9. Anonymous

    @HowCron:
    Here’s some more evidence, this time more recent, from Minneapolis/St. Paul…not only do they own airwaves, but get a piece of touring, theater, and billboard action as well.

    [www.citypages.com]

  10. MrStarhead

    KATT in Oklahoma City still plays a mix of classic and new, or at least they were still doing it when I moved away in 2004; they’d even give new ZZ Top or AC/DC some spins.

  11. Anonymous

    Well, this argument about why they Clear Channel doesn’t play Bruce would be very well-taken if Roger Friedman’s report had been accurate, but it wasn’t. And minimal research by Friedman (who appears to know little about the radio industry) would have shown that it wasn’t not true.

    It is not difficult to find out what’s being played on the radio. In markets of any size, airplay is continuously monitored — by BDS/Nielsen, which uses a complex computer-footprinting model, and by Mediabase, which uses human monitors sitting and listening.

    And, according to Mediabase stats cited by Clear Channel, CC’s stations in monitored markets (that is, most of them) are playing Magic. In fact, CC stations are playing tracks from Magic more than stations owned by any other broadcast group. Which may not amount to much airplay, but it does show the inaccuracy of Friedman’s allegation.

    In the interest of full disclosure, Clear Channel owns Mediabase. But if anyone figures that means it would fudge the data to show nonexistent airplay — airplay that would quickly be revealed to be nonexistent by rival airplay-monitoring services that have no love for Mediabase — that person is 1) silly, 2) clueless about radio, and 3) vastly overestimating the significance of Bruce Springsteen.

    At the very least, that CC has disputed (or more properly, refuted) Friedman’s claim should have been noted in this story.

  12. TheContrarian

    As I understand it, Clear Channel “selloffs” aren’t anythig to get too excited about. Sure, the stations have been offloaded. But the private equity firms that snapped up CC’s assets in 2006 retain an interest in these stations, and, once the shareholders stop freaking out, might move to reabsorb them. Especially if the FCC votes to further relax its rules re: consolidation.

    Clear Channel retains more than 700 stations in 88 markets out of the top 100 ranked by size. Its private equity masters also have holdings in two other radio behemoths, Uivision and Cumulus. This allows them to own a number of stations well exceeding the caps imposed by the FCC. Sneaky? Probably. Damaging to diversity? Definitely.

    I hate to sound like a damn shill all the time, but there’s tons more info about CC and radio consolidation here.

  13. dcSteve

    Sorry Dennis Obell, but AOR in its heyday did not play “a deep variety of stuff.” AOR formatted ealry 70s free-form radio, and while it may have offered a wider variety than one hears today on “active rock” or whatever stations, it emphasized a fairly narrow range of major-label, mostly pre-punk sounding mainstream rock.

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